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Notes for a Law Lecture
July 1, 1850 [These notes show Lincoln's power of straightforward statement and his good sense. They are of additional interest as indicating his attitude toward professional success.]
I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed as in those wherein I have been moderately successful. The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done. When you bring a common-law suit, if you have the facts for doing so, write the declaration at once. If a law point be in. volved, examine the books, and note the authority you rely on upon the declaration itself, where you are sure to find it when wanted. The same of defenses and pleas. In business not likely to be litigated,--ordinary collection cases, foreclosures, partitions, and the like,
make an examinations of titles, and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance. This course has a triple advantage ; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor when once done, performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not. Extemporaneous speaking should be practised and cultivated. It is the lawyer's avenue to the public. However able and faith. ful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech. And yet there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one, upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a fail. ure in advance.
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neigh. bors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser-in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior op portunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.
Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habit. ually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.
The matter of fees is important, far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved. Properly attended to, fuller justice is done to both lawyer and client. An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mor. tal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something was still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack in. terest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in the performance. Settle the amount of fee and take a note in advance. Then you will feel that you are working for something, and you are sure to do your work faithfully and well. Never sell a fee notemat least not before the consideration service is performed. It leads to negligence and dishonesty -negligence by losing interest in the case, and dishonesty in refusing to refund when you have allowed the consideration to fail.
There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief-resolve to be honest at all
events; and if in your own judgment you can. not be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.
Fragment on Sla very
July 1, 1854 (From early manhood Lincoln's sympathies had been strongly enlisted on behalf of the slaves. The contrast between slave labor and free labor has never been stated more tersely and vividly than here. The sentence," Twentyfive years ago I was a hired laborer, should be noted.]
EQUALITY in society alike beats inequality, whether the latter be of the British aristocratic sort or of the domestic slavery sort. We know Southern men declare that their slaves are better off than hired laborers amongst us. How little they know whereof they speak! There is no permanent class of hired laborers amongst us. Twenty-five years ago I was a hired la. borer. The hired laborer of yesterday labors on his own account to-day, and will hire others to labor for him to-morrow. Advancementimprovement in condition-is the order of things in a society of equals. As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great durable curse of the race.